Could This New Invention Eliminate Animal Drug Testing?

IMG_0049-1Photographed By Jessica Nash.
Of all the advances in modern medicine, the ability to create human tissue in a laboratory probably has the biggest sci-fi factor. Just last week, scientists implanted a lab-grown trachea in a cancer patient in Eritrea. And, scientists are only years away from being able to produce fully functional livers, lungs, kidneys and hearts with 3-D printers. Things are getting, as they say, pretty real.
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Of course, aside from the obvious direct human benefits, there's at least one other reason to be excited about the ability to grow organs in a dish: clinical drug testing. A new project from Los Alamos National Laboratory provides scientists with a "desktop human," complete with a synthetic liver, heart, lung, and kidney. The device, known as the Advanced Tissue-engineered Human Ectypal Network Analyzer (or ATHENA), is designed for mass production and easy use in a lab setting, with each organ about the size of your iPhone's screen. Researchers eventually hope to build a more complex system that integrates body processes like blood flow and metabolism. Click to the next page to see an artist's rendering of ATHENA.
ATHENAmodel copyPhoto: Courtesy Of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Of course, an invention like this could completely transform the way scientists go about testing new drugs for safety. With a fully functional replica of a human body at their disposal, researchers can learn exactly how a drug will impact different body systems at the same time, without having to risk giving an untested treatment to a real live human. Even better, systems like ATHENA could eliminate the need to test drugs on animals — at least in theory. Is it just us, or is this a bioethical win-win? (The Verge; Los Alamos National Laboratory)
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